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November 11, 1998

Alternative Medicine—Learning From the Past, Examining the Present, Advancing to the Future

Author Affiliations

From the Office of Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

JAMA. 1998;280(18):1616-1618. doi:10.1001/jama.280.18.1616

Medical practices outside the mainstream of "official" medicine have always been an important part of the public's health care. Healers and herbalists, bonesetters and barbers, shamans and spiritualists have offered the public a multiplicity of ways to address the confusion and suffering that accompany disease. A century ago in the United States there was a period of "enchantment" with unorthodox medicine. Homeopaths, herbalists, psychic and magnetic healers, and "eclectics" proliferated—most with little to no training, regulation of practice, or standards for quality of care. The prominence and configuration of these "irregulars," as they were called, has waxed and waned, depending on the perceived value of orthodox medicine, the needs of the public, and the changing values of society. The prominence of these practices subsided with the development of scientific medicine in this century and its dramatic advances in the understanding and treatment of disease.1

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